A sturdy, taut modern war movie about the first U.S. soldiers that went into combat after 9/11. 12 Strong is fairly straightforward, but also rousing. 3 out of 5.
EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Declassified: 3 Things You Can Now Know about 12 Strong, Crosswalk.com's Interview with Rob Riggle
Mere weeks after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, a team of U.S. Special Forces and CIA paramilitary were sent into Afghanistan on a covert operation. Their mission was to aid the local Afghan warlord General Dostum and his soldiers; they were members of the Northern Alliance fighting to overthrow the Taliban. Working in tandem, the American forces would secure coordinates for U.S. aircraft to target enemy-held territories. After an initial airstrike, Dostum's platoon would attack the crippled stronghold. This is the true story of their efforts and the extreme challenges – both geographical and tactical – they had to overcome.
A solid, if Hollywood-ized, post-9/11 war movie. Produced by action movie legend Jerry Bruckheimer, 12 Strong could be characterized as Top Gun without the cocky swagger or rock song soundtrack. There's a lot of machismo here but it's also serious, with a clear reverence for the American military. Based on the book Horse Soldiers, this account has three intriguing hooks that separate it from other war films.
First is the fact that this movie is about the very first soldiers to put boots on the ground after 9/11. So much was unknown at that time, and untested. The risk level was high, a borderline suicide mission, as they went into rugged mountainous terrain known as the Graveyard of Empires. Second, they literally became the calvary as they rode on horses into many of these regions. From a genre perspective, it's a unique mix of Western and War movie, seeing soldiers wield automatic rifles while charging on horseback. Third, the most intriguing element is the relationship between Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth), who's a bit of a maverick in his own right, and Afghan general Dostum (Navid Negahban). Their perspectives and strategies often clashed; at times, Dostum's requests contradicted Nelson's direct orders. Seeing them work together toward solutions, unified by common goals, gives the material character and thematic depth.
Strong ensemble work is also a plus, particularly from Michael Shannon and Michael Peña who play Nelson's two closest confidantes within the U.S. team. Patriotic without being jingoistic, the U.S. soldiers are portrayed as helping freedom-loving Afghans to retake their country, not as imperialist agents.
There really isn't anything that doesn't work here but, aside from the interesting aspects that are specific to this story, 12 Strong doesn't distinguish itself from any other American war film of the past decade. It's competently made but lacks a singular perspective, ambition, or purpose. Most of the characters are flat archetypes, too, and even the lead characters are more heroic (or villainous) prototypes than complex individuals. The end result is an effective but not particularly memorable war picture, which also means it could've been trimmed by about twenty minutes.
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
This film has no overt Christian themes. The only religion explicitly portrayed is Islam; some Muslims are good and others are bad. The Muslim soldiers allied with the U.S. troops make reference to serving God/Allah. There are no Christian soldiers portrayed. The values and themes endorsed are universal ones of courage, valor and sacrifice.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: R for war violence and strong language throughout.
- Language/Profanity: Profanity is used throughout. F-words and s-words are spoken frequently, along with milder profanities (a-words, d-words, h-words). The Lord's name is taken in vain roughly fifteen times. A few instances of crass/crude/vulgar language.
- Sexuality/Nudity: A suggestive conversation between a husband and wife about having sex before going off to war. Spouses kissing.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: Multiple scenes of war violence, involving automatic weapons, missiles, bombs, and so forth. The depictions are intense but rarely graphic. When wounds are particularly bloody or borderline gory, or there are body parts scattered on a battlefield, they're only briefly seen, not lingered on. Some instances of tense standoffs. There are also a few moments of point-blank killings outside of the context of warfare, including the murder of a woman by Taliban forces in front of her husband and two young daughters; she's shot in the head. The young girls are also psychologically tortured within this context. Brief video footage of a woman being executed for getting pregnant out of wedlock. 9/11 news footage.
Drugs/Alcohol: Vodka is briefly consumed.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of war movies and action movies, of films dealing with the U.S. response to 9/11, and of patriotic movies in general.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: People who don't like war films, or have a mixed-to-negative view regarding the U.S. military response to 9/11.
12 Strong, directed by Nicolai Fuglsig, opens in theaters January 19, 2018. It runs 130 minutes and stars Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, Navid Nagahban, William Fichtner, Rob Riggle, Geoff Stults, Trevante Rhodes,Thad Luckinbill and Austin Stowell. Watch the trailer for 12 Strong here.
Jeff Huston is a writer/director/editor for Steelehouse Productions, a film & video production company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He also publishes a movie blog that can be found at icantunseethatmovie.com, and is a member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle. In 2015, his short film Pink Shorts was a finalist in HBO's Project Greenlight competition, and was one of six winners in that show's online "Greenie Awards."
Publication date: January 18, 2018
Image courtesy: ©WarnerBros.